Usually it is accepted that the most characteristic feature of the religious development during the medieval period was the movement which emphasized single-minded intense devotion to God. It was a complete surrender of oneself to God. The movement which emphasized primarily these ideas was the Bhakti movement—devotion to God. Bhakti to God was accepted as salvation.
Many doctrines of the Bhakti cult may be found in the Bhagavad-Gita. The idea of the unity of God is reflected in the words, “Even those devotees who worship other gods worship Me alone.” (IX 23). It is not the way of worship but the love of a selfless devotee of pure heart that matters for “Whoever offers to me with devotion, a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water … I accept”.
The real development of Bhakti took place in South India between the 7th and the 12th centuries through the teachings of poet saints known as Alvars and Nayanar whose hymns were collected and compiled in the 10th century. The Sufi saints of the Muslims also emphasized devotion to Allah (God). The spiritual yearning made Kabir, Guru Nanak, Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsi Das, Chaitanya and others, the great exponents of Bhakti movement.
Characteristics of the Bhakti Movement
- There was no need to perform rituals, yagas or complicated methods to praise god. One could worship god by love and devotion.
- There was no need to worship different idols or deities. Bhakti movement emphasized belief in one god.
- The Bhakti saints emphasized stress on equality of all castes. They said that no one is high or low in front of god. Everyone is equal.
- Due to stress on castes equality, other religions came closer to Hindu religion. This emphasized Hindu Muslim unity.
- Before the Bhakti movement, Sanskrit language was used to perform yagas or rituals. Religious books or scriptures were in Sanskrit language. This language was mostly understood by Brahamans. The common people were not able to understand this language, but the bhakti saints preached in the language of the common people. So it became easy to understand for everyone.
- Before the bhakti movement, it was a deal of complicated rituals to realize god or have grace of god. But bhakti saints preached everyone that you only need a true, honest and kind heart to reach and realize god.
- Due to this movement, religion became a matter of spirituality and devotion; instead of rituals and propagandas.
One chief characteristic of the Bhakti movement can be mentioned as belief in one God. A devotee could worship God by love and devotion.
The second important characteristic of the Bhakti movement was that there was no need to worship idols or to perform elaborate rituals for seeking his grace. The third feature on which the Bhakti saints laid stress was the equality of all castes. There was no distinction of high or low as far as the devotion to God was concerned.
The fourth feature was the emphasis, which these saints laid on Hindu-Muslim unity. According to these saints all men irrespective of their religion are equal in the eyes of God.
The saints preached in the language of the common people. They did not use Sanskrit, which was the language of the cultured few. These saints laid stress on purity of heart and practice of virtues like truth, honesty, kindness, and charity. According to these saints only virtuous man could realize God. These saints considered God as omnipresent and omnipotent. Even a householder could realize God by love and devotion.
Some saints regarded God as formless or Nirguna while others consider him as having different forms or Saguna.